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project introduction

CASE STUDY # 8

The Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES)

location:  Cnr Stewart & Roberts St, Brunswick East (Melbourne)

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An innovative environmental park

Set adjacent to the rehabilitated Merri Creek is a public park with a difference.  There is no brightly coloured children’s playground equipment, no large beds of ornamental planting or catalogue purchased picnic shelters.  The Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) has a strong village feel.

Gutters are missing, there are weeds aplenty and it’s neither neat nor tidy.  Rotating blades of hush-silent wind turbines grace the sky. The new environment centre has been constructed with environmental best practice at its foundation and children can get their hands dirty learning about the role of soil invertebrates.  The squeals of a group of primary school children as they plunged their hands into nutritious compost, bursting with pink worms and other wrigglers, indicate that the centre’s projects are challenging the community’s experiences.  

In the nursery, designed on permaculture principles, a handsome rooster followed by a bevy of hens, struts among the plants for sale and sips contentedly from a ceramic water feature.  Fruit trees are espaliered to trellis in pots and the nursery sells an assortment of local native plants in small tubes. 

The café is hugely popular.  It serves healthy organic food in keeping with the philosophy of the venture.  Much of it is produced on site in keeping with the sustainability ethos of CERES.

Visitors are exposed to things they may have never encountered before:  a dome composed of bicycle parts, a composting toilet, a car park permeability trial, low fences (hurdles) made from woven plant stems such as fruit tree prunings, an aboriginal fish trap, a chain to channel roof water into underground water storage and unusual concrete.  It’s not that the appearance of concrete is uncommon, as it’s a product we see around us, everyday, and take for granted.  This concrete uses recycled fly-ash, a by-product of coal production.  This work-a-day material has lower embodied energy than the conventional product.

CERES has been embraced by the Melbourne public and visitors from further afield.  There’s something for everyone at CERES.

Teachers value the educational role that the place plays: primary school and high school aged children can attend programs at CERES with varying environmental foci.  Small children accompany their mother on foot, in strollers and on tricycles.  It’s safe to let littlies loose as cars are kept to the perimeter of the site. There is a strong emphasis on children’s activities. A variety of school programs are delivered during holidays and for the parents wanting something different for their child’s birthday party, they can choose from an aboriginal, African, Indonesian or Indian themed party. 

It hasn’t always been that way.  Back in the 70’s it was a disused landfill site.  A group of dedicated individuals took on the conversion of the 10 acre site in 1981.  Today, CERES is funded through a range of institutions, including Victorian and federal government departments and private enterprise. 

The Sacred Kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus, has become a popular symbol representing the success of the environment park.  Due to habitat clearing this bird had all but disappeared from the site.  With revegetation of the creek corridor and mass plantings within CERES, the kingfisher once again graces the area.  Each spring they return to the Merri Creek catchment to feed on insects, reptiles and fish.  A motif of a diving kingfisher is incorporated into a Gaudi inspired new entry gate and annually a fund raising festival is named in its honour. At the 2007 festival held in early spring, a community fundraiser was held that offered life music and pizza made from onsite pizza ovens.

CERES focuses on making people more aware about their environment: how to harvest rainwater, how to retrofit homes to save energy and money, how to reuse objects (eg bicycle repair workshop), a cultural centre teaching people about indigenous culture, a range of alternative power sources and the importance of growing and eating organic food.  It recognises that change needs to occur at an individual and community level.

Organic food growing and distribution is a big priority at the park.  Food makes up a large proportion of Australian’s environmental footprint.  CERES addresses this with community gardens and an organic farm.  An organic food market is held twice a week.  CERES has began an innovative scheme called the Urban Orchard Project.  Excess fruit from local back gardens is donated or traded at the markets.  Imagine if such a scheme was running in Canberra, we would never need to import another lemon into our region again!


Chairperson Robert Lococca explains the CERES success story:

“It shows you what a community can do if it sets its mind to it. Twenty-five years ago it was about changing the world for the better – a more sustainable society - and that is still the case. Twenty five years ago the CERES community was telling the story that Al Gore has made popular today and over that time we have helped hundreds of thousands of people make their lives more environmentally sustainable.”


While Canberra is blessed with plenty of public parks with gracious trees and attractive spaces and state-of-the art-playgrounds, it lacks a park which is a true reflection of the environmental challenges faced by 21st century society.  An environment park, like CERES, is much more than an aesthetic recreational experience.  Through demonstration and interpretation it encourages change in the community.  It demonstrates better ways of doing things.  It engages people in activities that foster a sense of community. It challenges people to question the business-as-usual approach and live greener and more fulfilling lives.

The proposed Eastlake development on the southern shores of Lake Burley Griffin would be the ideal site for Canberra’s own environment park. It could be linked to the Norgrove Park, which showcases stormwater treatment and habitat creation. 

The planning of a suburb like Eastlake could allow a community environment park to be linked to an eco-housing precinct, demonstrating that sustainable design and technology are achievable by all. 


 

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